The fabled Mayor’s Cup is on the line Saturday at Memorial Stadium, where Missouri plays host to South Carolina for an 11 a.m. kickoff on the SEC Network.
Since the Tigers joined the SEC, they have played the Gamecocks for the trophy annually, and both universities are based in towns named Columbia.
The winner gets to exit the field with the Mayor’s Cup aloft, so there’s that.
Obviously, the big storyline for Missouri is Maty Mauk’s suspension and Drew Lock getting his first career start as a true freshman. South Carolina also will start a true freshman in Lorenzo Nunez.
For a sense of how those developments affect South Carolina and more from the upcoming opponent’s perspective, we enlisted Josh Kendall, who is the Gamecocks beat writer for The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C.
Kendall went Four Downs with The Star about freshmen quarterbacks, injuries and rivalries:
First down: What’s been most impressive about Lorenzo Nunez in the last few games? And how much has his confidence grown?
Kendall: He’s given South Carolina a little spark and a little hope with his athleticism and his mobility. Nunez is similar to Connor Shaw in that he’s mobile and brings an element to the running game that Connor Mitch and Perry Orth (who each started games earlier this year) and Dylan Thompson (last year’s starter) did not.
Mostly, though, I just think the fact that he’s a young player who looks like he can improve and move the offense gives everyone some hope that South Carolina can improve.
Second down: Drew Lock is a considerably more accurate passer, especially on short and intermediate routes, but Maty Mauk is a bigger threat running. Which is a tougher matchup for South Carolina’s defense?
Kendall: The Gamecocks’ defense has been burned by the run and the pass this season, so it’s kind of take your pick. South Carolina feels like it made strides last week, but that was against Central Florida, which came in with the worst offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The Gamecocks have moved Skai Moore from middle linebacker to weak-side linebacker and are now starting T.J. Holloman at middle linebacker, which worked well last week. They also expect to get cornerback Chris Lammons back from a knee injury this week, which will help.
The pass defense has given up a lot of underneath stuff all year, but Jon Hoke’s Cover 2 is built to take away those middle-to-long routes, so it might be a good matchup for the Gamecocks in that regard.
Third down: Missouri knows all about injuries to running backs and centers, so how big of a blow is it for the Gamecocks to be without Brandon Wilds and Alan Knott?
Kendall: Normally, losing your center and putting a true freshman in his place would be a big deal, but the Gamecocks really, really like Zack Bailey, who is starting for Knott.
I’m sure there is some concern about his recognition this week going against Missouri and all it does with its defensive linemen, but Bailey has held up well so far. Wilds is a loss, but he not an insurmountable one. What Nunez brings to the run game has kind of canceled out the loss of Wilds in my mind.
Fourth down: Skai Moore won’t get the chance to go after Mauk, but with such banter and some tight games lately is Missouri becoming a rival for South Carolina?
Kendall: I think they definitely consider this a rivalry game in kind of a wacky way just because of how intense the last two games have been. I expect Saturday’s game to be very hotly contested because of that and the fact that both of these teams need a win badly.
It’s a little early to be thinking this way I guess, but you kind of wonder if this is a bowl-elimination game the way these two teams have been playing so far.